FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - To help veterans leaving the military as it downsizes, the government on Wednesday started a one-stop job-shopping website for them to create resumes, connect with employers and become part of a database for companies to mine.
First lady Michelle Obama announced the new Veterans Employment Center at Fort Campbell, Ky., during a special veterans' jobs summit, which comes as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. Unemployment among veterans who have served since September 2001 stood at 9 percent in 2013, about 1.6 percentage points higher than the overall civilian population.
The website, ebenefits.va.gov, will help veterans and military spouses build resumes, translate military skills into private-sector skills and provide career and training data with the click of a mouse.
"It is our obligation to you," Obama told hundreds of soldiers in a hangar on the sprawling military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. "Your job is to take full advantage of these opportunities."
The Army plans to reduce its fighting force from a high of about 570,000 at the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 - a reflection of budget cuts and of the country's current military needs as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end.
Col. David "Buck" Dellinger, the garrison commander of Fort Campbell, said about 5,000 of the 30,157 soldiers stationed at the post were in the midst of transitioning out of the Army and another 5,000 were within a year of being discharged.
"It's not going to be a career for everybody," Dellinger said.
The Obama administration's most high-profile online tool, the HealthCare.gov site designed to enroll Americans in health plans, had a disastrous rollout last fall. But administration officials said Tuesday that they have tested the veterans site to ensure it can handle the expected traffic and the various tasks.
Maj. Sue Whetsell, a 24-year Army veteran from Omaha, Neb., is hoping to become one of the soldiers to take advantage of the new website. Whetsell wants to leverage her experience as a budget officer into a similar job in the private sector. But, after a long Army career, Whetsell acknowledges she needs help in preparing for civilian life.
"It's just figuring out what is step one, step two and step three," Whetsell said. "That's the biggest challenge right now."
The announcement is part of a monthlong series of events marking the third anniversary of Joining Forces, the nationwide initiative that Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden, created in 2011 to improve employment, education and health care for active-duty service members, military families and veterans. Mrs. Obama announced to the 1,200 soldiers assembled that Joining Forces had resulted in 540,000 jobs for veterans and their spouses - far exceeding the goal of 100,000 jobs initially sought in the first two years.
Biden, who appeared at Fort Campbell with Mrs. Obama, announced that the military spouses' employment program has enlisted 228 employers, up from the 60 companies that had made a commitment when the program launched in June 2011.
Shipping giant UPS is among the corporations that have pledged to hire more veterans, recruiting 13,000 veterans in the past 12 months, said Lytana Kids, UPS vice president for workforce planning. That's about 8 percent of the parcel delivery company's overall hires, compared with 5 percent before. An integrated website would make that task even easier, she said.
Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, said the website and job fairs help the company generate "quite a bit" of interest among veterans. Tyson has committed to hiring 2,500 veterans by the end of 2014 and has already brought more than 3,000 on board.
"A lot of them are not aware they have transferrable skills," Sparkman said. "Their work in logistics, planning and leadership are all good qualities to have in our business."
The summit was organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor.